Enforcing Justice by War
The laws of war do not allow for unprovoked attacks, nor do they allow war without first negotiating peace. Deut. 20:10, 11 says,
10 When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace.
Keep in mind that God does not justify mere wars of conquest. There must be some injustice to be corrected in order to restore the lawful order. War is an act of law enforcement after the Judge has issued His ruling and the condemned party refuses to submit to the ruling of the Judge.
But first, the rebellious nation must be offered terms of peace. That is, the offending nation’s leaders must be shown what they must pay as restitution in order to avoid the penalty of contempt of court.
11 And it shall come about, if it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then it shall be that all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor [mas, “tribute, enforced payment”] and shall serve you.
The specific application of this law depends on the nature of the offense that brought about the war. An offending nation must pay restitution to the nation that it has wronged. It may be that a tax is imposed upon a nation to pay such restitution. If they do not have sufficient funds to pay, then they must work off their debt.
This is no different from a criminal case where a thief steals from his neighbor. Exodus 22:3 says that if he cannot pay restitution, “he shall be sold for his theft.”
Many earthly kings fight wars of conquest in order to gain more slave labor. Their primary interest is conquering weaker nations in order to gain slaves rather than to enforce equal justice. God’s law was not meant to promote war as a means of gaining more slave labor.
Biblical Laws of Slavery
Biblical slavery is first designed to repay the victims in order to restore the lawful order. It is a court-ordered work program. Secondly, slavery is designed to teach the thief to work, rather than to steal. If such slavery is conducted by a man of faith who has the character of Jesus Christ, such slavery will produce genuine repentance and reformation. The thief will be changed by personal example.
God shows his displeasure toward carnal or cruel taskmasters, in that a mistreated slave must be given his freedom (Exodus 21:26, 27). Biblical slavery does not give slave masters the right to mistreat their slaves, nor does a master have the right of life and death over a slave. Men’s laws allowing slavery in past centuries are very different from God’s laws, even if carnal Christians have used God’s law to justify their own version of slavery.
So when we apply this principle on an international level in settling disputes among the nations, the same principles hold true. If a nation robs the resources of another nation, and the offending nation is taken to the Divine Court of Justice, restitution must be paid accordingly. If the offending nation cannot pay double restitution as required, then it must pay tribute.
If it refuses to pay, then that nation is guilty of contempt of court, which carries the death penalty. Such a penalty is serious, and for this reason the enforcers of the law must be sure that the offending nation understands the consequences of refusing to pay restitution that is owed. We read in the next verses,
12 However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14 Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself, and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby [i.e., Canaan].
The men were the ones who are responsible for making the decisions either to submit to divine judgment or to refuse the court order. Hence, the death penalty is applied to them, but not to the women, children, and animals, who are presumed to be innocent victims. In such cases, the women and children are to be distributed among the victim-nation to pay the restitution owed. Essentially, they were to be absorbed and incorporated into the nation.
This manner of treatment was applicable to nations other than the Canaanites. Moses sees Canaan as “nations nearby,” but all others are cities “very far from you.” The reason is that Canaan presented a special case that did not necessarily apply to other nations.
Far-away Cities and Nations
Moses continues with his instructions in Deut. 20:16-18,
16 Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God.
Israel was to treat the various nations (tribes) occupying Canaan more harshly than other nations. Why? We are given only a partial answer in verse 18. To answer this question more fully, we must go back and rehearse the reasons for Israel’s conquest of Canaan, for this was where the laws of war were first implemented.
Canaan’s Offence against God and Noah
It all started in Genesis 9:21 and 22, when Noah’s son Ham, along with Ham’s son, Canaan, stripped Noah of his garments while he lay drunk in his tent. Unfortunately, the Bible gives few details, other than that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father.” The historical book of Jasher, however, says that Ham took Noah’s garments. Presumably, Noah was too drunk to remove his own garments, so Ham and Canaan stripped him bare. These were the skins with which God had clothed Adam. These garments then became the symbol of the birthright authority that was passed from generation to generation.
At any rate, we are told in Jasher that Ham gave these garments to Cush, who later passed them to his son Nimrod, the founder of Babylon. Yet because Canaan had participated in the theft of Noah’s garments, his line inherited Noah’s curse. Canaan then occupied the land which was named for him. Even as Canaan had usurped the birthright, so also did the Canaanites usurp the Promised Land.
Canaan might have been judged by God just 414 years later, which is the prophetic time cycle known as “Cursed Time.” This 414-year cycle ran out in the year that the Philistines were stealing the wells of Abraham (Gen. 21:22-34). The Philistine king apologized to Abraham and made a covenant with him, and this gave Canaan another grace period of 414 years.
But when that second grace period ended, the Canaanites of that generation did not repent. That was the year that Joshua brought judgment to Canaan. Joshua represented Jesus (Yeshua), and in order for the Canaanites to avoid divine judgment, they were required to submit to the judgment of God and give back the land and the birthright to the rightful owners.
But the Canaanites chose to fight, because they had no faith in the true God and His Divine Court of International Justice.
So we see that Israel’s invasion of Canaan was not a conquest of territory based on self-interest and the carnal mind. It was a case of divine justice for an offense that began 828 years earlier when Canaan usurped the birthright and then passed it on to his son and grandson.
For this reason, the Canaanite cities were found to be in contempt of court, and God judged them according to His law. All were held equally accountable. However, later in Scripture it appears that God found ways to implement the mercy factor even toward the nations in Canaan.
The Mercy Factor Toward Canaan
Judges 3:1 and 2 says,
1 Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; 2 only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).
The chapter continues with an account of how the Israelites violated the covenant by intermarrying with the Canaanites and by serving their false gods. The first truth that comes forth in this account is that God is given credit for leaving certain of those nations in the land of Canaan. Because God was the primary Victim in the theft of the birthright, He had the right to show mercy to whatever extent He saw fit. Genocide was never God’s ultimate purpose, not even for the Canaanite nations.
Recall that if Israel had been able and willing to hear the voice of God at the Mount, they would have experienced Pentecost and would have received the Sword of the Spirit by which to conquer Canaan. The fact that Israel failed to hear God’s voice was the underlying reason that they were not given the Great Commission that was to come later. Hence, Israel was somewhat liable for the bloody manner of conquest, and so God used their liability to grant a level of mercy toward the Canaanites.
In fact, God left Canaanites in the land “to test Israel.” The stated reason in Judges 3:1 is that the Israelites “might be taught war.” While many might assume this to mean the Israelites needed human targets for military training, I believe that God meant for them to learn the laws of war and how God’s law might be implemented by the mind of Christ.
Secondly, the Lord left Canaanites in the land to see who would evangelize who. The Great Commission was still the underlying intent of God, as seen more clearly in the New Testament. God left Canaanites in their midst in order to allow the Israelites opportunity to convert them to the true God. However, as it turned out, the Canaanites were more successful at evangelizing the Israelites than the other way around.
Even so, we see examples such as Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11), who was a good soldier under King David. David unjustly had him killed under the pretext of battle. But Scripture treats Uriah as a righteous and loyal soldier fighting for the cause of the Kingdom of God. When Nathan confronted David with his sin in 2 Samuel 12, he described Uriah as a poor man who had done nothing wrong. No doubt Uriah the Hittite was an honest believer in the God of Israel, and not merely a mercenary fighting for the love of money. So God judged David for killing Uriah and for stealing his wife.
When we understand the laws of war through the eyes of Jesus Christ, we no longer see with the carnal motive of self-interest, but walk according to the mind of Christ. We no longer view the nations with covetousness, as if we deserve to occupy their land. We do we see in them an opportunity to obtain the tribute of slaves, but with a view of establishing Kingdom rule and divine order in the earth.
The goal is to enthrone Jesus Christ as the King of the Creation, which is His rightful position as Heir of all things. His law establishes equal justice for all when administered by the overcomers who have put on the mind of Christ.